How to Camp in the Redwoods
Camping in the Redwoods National and State Parks (RNSP), a system of protected reserves in northern California's coastal ranges, offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the most magnificent forests anywhere: the fog-belt groves of coast redwood, the world's tallest trees. Forty-five percent of the remaining old-growth redwood forest is protected by these three state parks---Prairie Creek, Jedediah Smith, and Del Norte Coast Redwood---and Redwood National Park, administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service. This article will outline camping opportunities in the park system.
Fees, Reservations, Permits, Season
Things You’ll Need:
- Camping permits where necessary
- Camping permits where necessary
While Redwoods National Park is free to enter, the three state parks in the system have entrance and camping fees. Check the California State Parks Web site (www.parks.ca.gov) for details.
Pick up a backcountry permit if you plan to camp at the primitive sites at Miners Ridge or Ossagon Creek in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, or in a dispersed manner along Redwood Creek in Redwood National Park. Permits can be obtained at the Prairie Creek entrance station or the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center.
Reserve your site at Mill Creek, Jedediah Smith, and Elk Prairie campgrounds by calling 1-800-444-PARK or visiting www.reserveamerica.com, which manages camping reservations on public lands. Gold Bluffs Beach Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park does not accept advance reservations.
Check the season. The four developed campgrounds of the RNSP are open all year, except for Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, which is open May 1 through September 30. Dispersed camping along the Redwood Creek gravels (the only place in the RNSP where it is allowed; see below) is sometimes difficult in the winter, when high water can block access and available campsites. Inquire at the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center for current conditions.
Choosing a Camping Area
If sleeping among the redwoods is what you're after, investigate the developed campgrounds in the RNSP system. Mill Creek (145 tent/RV sites), Jedediah Smith (86 tent/RV sites), and Elk Prairie (75 tent/RV sites) campgrounds are situated near the redwood groves of Del Norte Coast Redwoods, Jedediah Smith, and Prairie Creek Redwoods state parks, respectively.
camping at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which supports 25 RV and 29 tent sites. The tempestuous Pacific Ocean stretches westward, while the redwood ranges rise to the east. Gold Bluffs Beach has the added distinction of providing access to Fern Canyon, a famous gorge of 30-foot, fern-lined walls lying to the north near the mouth of Home Creek.
Visitors seeking fewer crowds can try the seven backcountry campgrounds of Redwood National Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Dispersed camping in the RNSP is prohibited except for along a portion of Redwood Creek in the national park, where backpackers may pitch a tent past the first seasonal bridge and at least a quarter-mile away from the Tall Trees Grove.
For wildlife watchers, the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park campgrounds, Elk Prairie and Gold Bluffs Beach, provide good bases. The state park is well-known for its large, visible herds of Roosevelt elk, the biggest elk subspecies in the world. Wildlife is plentiful and varied throughout the RNSP, and doesn't only include terrestrial species: The annual gray whale migrations up and down the Pacific coast may be observed from some of the parks.
Tips & Warnings
Black bears are common in the coastal ranges, and may be encountered at any of the RNSP camping areas. Take the proper precautions to ensure food is securely stored.
Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay
Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.
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